San Diego, Calif., Dec. 16, 2009 — Hollywood may be ground zero for cinematic glitz and glamour, but the University of California, San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) was digital cinema industry central last week when the members of CineGrid™ converged here for their fourth annual workshop.
CineGrid is a non-profit international membership organization and represents one of the first major research collaborations at Calit2. It connects people around the world who are experimenting with "extreme" digital media. Headquartered in California and run by Laurin Herr and Natalie von Osdol of Pacific Interface, CineGrid is leveraging next-generation cyberinfrastructure to promote higher-resolution imagery, better sound as well as more secure and efficient distribution of digital media over photonic networks.
"Every year, we set out to impress Hollywood with what we're doing in the research community," says Calit2 research scientist Tom DeFanti, a founding member of CineGrid. "This year, we showcased our fully evolved capabilities in distance collaboration for 4K editing and sound." 4K images have roughly 4,000 horizontal pixels on 2160 vertical lines, offering approximately four times the resolution of the most widely-used HD television format.
Continues DeFanti: "CineGrid demonstrated that people can now collaborate remotely as if they were in same room — without appreciable delays or any kind of awkwardness — and really focus on creative tasks at hand. CineGrid also showed on a 32-by-18-foot screen that 4K is the best medium for everything from stop-motion animation to wildlife photography to computer graphics to wet skin.”
Aside from the extraordinary picture quality at the workshop, engineers also showcased a number of sophisticated audio techniques, including four major 4K streaming demonstrations. They included a 30-minute stream of remote optical microscopy by Richard Weinberg of the University of Southern California School of Cinema Arts; a 45-minute remote observation by Jeff Weekley of the Naval Postgraduate School and Atsushi Takahara and his team from the NTT Network Innovation Labs; a 20-minute remote color collaboration by Michal Krsek and Sven Ubik of CESNET, along with Felix Nevrela of CinePOST; and 25 minutes of networked cinema Post-Production Mix Theater by Peter Otto and Nathan Brock of Calit2 and Steve Morris and Phil Benson of Skywalker Sound.
The post-production demo featured a secure gigabit photonic networking between Skywalker Sound in Marin County, Calif., and Calit2 at UC San Diego.
“We demonstrated a next-generation collaborative/distributed picture and audio editing environment that exhibits the speed and interactivity of a local editing suite, despite audio and video editors being separated by a distance of 500 miles,” explains UCSD music professor Peter Otto, who is also the director of Sonic Arts R&D at Calit2.
For the demo, hundreds of channels of audio were mixed at Skywalker and passed uncompressed (with zero quality lost) to UC San Diego for audition, with transport and detailed parameter manipulation under instantaneous control by either operator.
“Synchronization was sample-accurate at a resolution of 48K sample rate (24 bits per sample), and linked to an absolute GPS clock reference using GPS synch boxes in both locations,” continues Otto. “Latency between locations is measured at 11 ms., and remains stable throughout a session.”
The video and audio editors remarked that the technology was totally transparent, and in fact made possible new ways of interacting between sound and picture post-production.
“So the net gain was not only a big improvement in logistics and security, but an actual improvement in the overall workflow of cinema production, whether distant or local," adds Otto.
In addition to advances in visual and audio quality, one of CineGrid's major accomplishments over the past year has been the establishment of the CineGrid Exchange (CX), a multi-site, digital media repository supporting CineGrid member-driven testbeds. CineGrid's members include representatives from the digital cinema industry, as well as software and hardware distributors, networking analysts and computer scientists.
Ultimately, the CX will operate both as an active archive (similar to a library) and as a collaborative research support mechanism to promote networking or production experiments, live events and performances or technical demonstrations.
Explains Dana Plepys, director and curator of the CX: "Currently, CineGrid is focusing on developing the archive component of the CX to support the basic functionality and services expected of a digital archive and required by CineGrid members. The overarching requirement for the CX has been to automate processes (adding, managing, distributing assets, as well as catalog functionality) that have largely been done manually for the last couple of years. Once this is accomplished, the established functions and capabilities will be leveraged to support the research mode of the CX to more fully support collaborative experiments conducted by the membership."
Plepys notes that the evolution of the CX has required the technical expertise of a number of institutions, including Calit2, which not only provided computer and networking resources but also the staff responsible for leading the operations of the CX.
"CineGrid has also proactively driven progress," adds Plepys, "and in large part, a key player in the CX success over the last six months has been the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS), who through their Digital Content Archive initiative, StEM (Standard Evaluation Material) case study, have provided the CX an opportunity to leverage their prior work with our common goals/requirements for a digital media archive. AMPAS has been a catalyst and has provided much needed support towards this collaborative effort."
Looking back on the CineGrid workshop, Calit2 media specialist Hector Bracho noted that despite the many long hours of hard work from his team to prepare and rehearse all the complex technology demonstrations, “it was very exciting to witness the new heights of sophistication exhibited by the different CineGrid collaborators.
“In the Calit2 auditorium,” he continues, “we added multiple 4K projectors and displays, HD video cameras, videoconferencing equipment and improved the audio system to deliver the expectations of CineGrid’s rapidly-evolving showcase event.
“The spectacular experimental collaborations with Northern California and Prague, the fascinating remote presentations from Brazil, Norway and New England, and the outstanding new 4K video content we screened was a satisfying experience for the public and a rewarding experience for all of us involved in making it happen.”
Adds DeFanti: “The proliferation of technologies addressing 4K make it fairly clear: It will, in the space of a few years, become as straightforward to do as HD. And with some luck it will be just as ubiquitous."
by Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, email@example.com